Another Look At Former Alderman Tom Bauer

The following is something I take no pleasure in writing, but feel is essential information for St. Louis voters. I prevailed against Tom Bauer in two elections, so I didn't need to dwell on this information. Bauer’s history and actions deserve another look, so we remember how he conducted himself while in office. Filing for local office begins on November 26th, and I fully expect former alderman Tom Bauer to make another effort to return to the very seat from which voters recalled him in 2005. Bauer has no business being anywhere near local government. Years have passed and many people may have forgotten, or never heard the story of Tom Bauer's time in office. Bauer is a lawyer by trade. He was given a chance to be alderman from 1999 to 2005. He used his time as alderman to outrageously file multiple lawsuits against his own constituents, all of which he eventually lost. Less well known, he was also friends with, and personally represented one of the country's most notorious white supremacists in court. Bauer may be a perennial candidate, but he is a man with appalling judgment and character.  

A man is known by the company he keeps. In the case of Tom Bauer, that company is truly despicable. Here's the story of Bauer's relationship with Frank Weltner, another Dogtown resident, and a man who for a time was one of the most prominent white supremacist figures in the United States. 

Frank Weltner "enjoyed" a period of infamy from roughly 2003 to 2006. Weltner became infamous when a website he began hosting in 1998, "Jew Watch," sadly reached the top of Google search results for the word, "Jew." Suddenly this bookish but virulently racist man was in the national spotlight. The Post-Dispatch profiled him in 2005. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "Dogtown Man is Face of White Power Here," 1/16/2005] "The blacks are the storm troopers of the Jews," he told the newspaper. A few months later a New York Times profile included him as a main figure in the expanding world of online racial hatred. "Mr. Weltner, a 63-year-old former local radio talk show host, began what white power groups say is the first round-the-clock racial Webcast this year." Weltner was not just a weird, closeted racist with quiet personal views - he was an outspoken, prolific writer, radio host, and conspiracy theorist with one of the most well trafficked racist websites on earth. His views were obvious and unavoidable. And Tom Bauer, while alderman, was his friend and lawyer.  

Weltner's age and academic facade fooled some into thinking he was a quirky old man or a "get off my lawn" type. Don't be fooled. Locally, he was deeply involved with the National Alliance, one of the most active white supremacist organizations in the county at the time. He hosted an explicitly racist radio show. He organized events and rallies, and recruited new people to his white supremacist organization in local papers and even in ads on Metrolink. And the prevalence of his website gave him a national profile that even the New York Times noticed. Weltner's work on the web, which is too foul and manic to delve into here, was very much the prelude to the "alt-right" that has gained prominence in subsequent years. When we bought our first house in Dogtown in 2006, within days it was flyered with anti-Semitic literature by a Weltner group. Weltner sought to "inspire" people nationally and intimidate people locally. "It's the lone wolves who really can inflict violence and listen to the Frank Weltners. He inspires others." Karen Aroesty, of the Anti-Defamation League, told the Post-Dispatch in 2005.  

While Weltner is still active and still spreading a message of hate, his downfall began in late 2005. Just days after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, Weltner registered multiple websites designed to fraudulently solicit donations for hurricane victims, and steer them into his own bank account. He was prosecuted for fraud by the Missouri Attorney General and part of his conviction prevented him from further running websites. Weltner wasn't just a racist, he was a man willing to steal donations and prey upon people's charity. Despite this, Bauer continued to associate with him, using him as a campaign surrogate and calling him a "supporter" to the Post-Dispatch even after these charges were filed. [St. Louis Post Dispatch, "Local, Very Local" 12/8/2005]  

Which is to say, Tom Bauer knew exactly who Frank Weltner was. Despite that, (or because of it?) Bauer was Weltner's friend, attorney, and associate. While alderman, Bauer palled around with one of the country's most notorious white supremacist "thinkers." And he admitted it. For just a glimpse of the Bauer/Weltner alliance, see the timeline below: 

1998 - Weltner began hosting "Jew Watch" website

2003 - Website received national attention after climbing Google search rankings

2004 - Tom Bauer, while alderman, became Frank Weltner's attorney

2005 - January - Weltner's racism was profiled by the Post-Dispatch

2005 - April - Weltner's racism and websites were profiled by the New York Times

2005 - September - Bauer removed from office by voters

2005 - September - Weltner charged by Attorney General with fraud

2005 - November - Weltner operated as campaign surrogate for Bauer, Bauer called him a "supporter" and one of "our guys" in run-up to new election 

I can't see inside another's heart. But I can make a determination of someone's judgment. And so can you. While in office, Bauer used his time to file multiple lawsuits against his own constituents for libel. His legal attacks on voters who disagreed with him eventually led to his recall. He took on as a legal client one of the country's most notorious white supremacists. When given a chance to clarify his relationship with Weltner by the Post-Dispatch, Bauer called Weltner a "supporter." Which, of course, is true. Bauer was the candidate of choice for Missouri's leading white supremacist.  

And before I conclude, let me spare a thought for one of Bauer's other friends and campaign staff. Again - the company you keep. Matt Frederick has been posing as a local government "watchdog" in St. Louis for a number of years. But he was a big Bauer supporter, and relentless critic of me, regardless of what I was doing. Frederick worked on Bauer's campaign's against me in 2011 and 2015. Frederick is a keen follower of, and commenter on, local politics. He's always looking for a conspiracy behind the headline. A relative of Frederick works with Bauer and has been his campaign treasurer since 1998. Matt Frederick knows Tom Bauer's history. He knows Tom Bauer was the friend and attorney of one of the country's most prominent white supremacists. But still, Frederick was paid by Bauer to help get him back in office. Matt Frederick campaigned to elect the attorney for a notorious white supremacist.  

Let's stop tip-toeing around this. There is no shortage of level-headed, decent people who can serve in these offices. It's time to sweep away Tom Bauer and move on. If and when Bauer files, remind him, his campaign staff, and his surrogates, of his close association with one of the most vile, hateful, racist personalities in our city, and his egregious abuse of his own constituents.

 

 

 

A New Direction in 2019

Being elected to serve as alderman in St. Louis has been an honor and privilege, and I want to thank voters in the 24th ward for choosing me to represent them twice, in 2011 and 2015. I am proud of my accomplishments at City Hall and in the 24th Ward over the last seven and a half years. I have decided that I will not be running for a third term in the spring of 2019, and wanted to announce that now so other interested candidates would have time to make a decision and plan a campaign. I doubt I will be endorsing anyone to replace me - may the best woman or man win (and make sure they repave Clayton and Southwest Ave - they are next on the list).

I've enjoyed many aspects of this job and look at the last eight years mostly with satisfaction, but St. Louis is a difficult City, and some aspects of the job have become more troubling to me over time.

Here is the metaphor I would use: My wife is a hairsylist, and I asked her to imagine what it would be like to go to work every day without scissors. To have customers come into the salon and sit in her chair, and then to explain that yes, this is a hair salon, but no, unfortunately she does not have any scissors. She understands they want a haircut, but there are simply no scissors here. They can wait, sure, perhaps some scissors will arrive, but she isn't sure when. She left a voicemail for the scissor store. Hopefully they will call her back.

Many days this is what it feels like to be an alderman. People come to you because they want help, but you don't trust that help will be coming, even when you ask, and ask again. Maybe this is just what it feels like to live in St. Louis - I don't blame any one particular person for this dynamic. This is what living and trying to govern in a City wrecked by suburban sprawl and depopulation and devastating crime and an inadequate tax base is like. The easy thing to do is yell, "It must be the mayor's fault!" But the issue is far, far more complicated and old than that.

It's not just me that feels this way, I talk to other alderman who experience the same frustration, as well as City employees. It's not unique to me, but it's a dynamic that seems to have gotten frustratingly worse over time. I don't think it will be much different for the next person in this role, but I wish them well. It feels great when things work, when you are able to help a constituent, when you can resolve a problem. But the anxiety that the problem will not be fixed, that the resident will be disappointed, that help will not be coming, has slowly become the dominant feeling of this job. I've come to expect things to go wrong, and I think that means it's time to give someone else a shot.

Another thing particular to me, I cannot stomach asking people for campaign contributions again for another campaign. I always loathed it and I ran the cheapest DIY campaigns I possibly could and raised as little money as possible. Something about it does not click for me, and I can’t gin up the enthusiasm to do it again.

On the other hand, almost the whole list of things I wanted to see achieved have happened, or are well on their way to happening. Dogtown is getting a grocery store, Clifton Park has a master plan. You can safely push a baby stroller into Forest Park at the Clayton and Skinker intersection. The vacant school I looked at every day for 10 years from my old house has been renovated and is fully occupied. The other vacant school in the ward will soon be under contract. We've successfully reined in development incentives inside the ward, and a city-wide effort on the same front is trudging forward. I fought a quiet and quixotic quest to repave the Penrose Park Velodrome, and that too is underway, keeping open a north city park amenity that would otherwise have had to close. We also passed an historic charter amendment to reduce the size of the Board of Aldermen - and if naysayers and fear don't win, it may even go into effect. After 8 years at City Hall, I promise you this only begins the reform that is needed. On the daily treadmill of this job I tried to make good decisions, to know what I was talking about, to not bullshit people, and to nudge forward the good things and slow down the bad things.

I also want to point to what needs to be changed about government in the St. Louis region: Everything.

Everything. Government in the region needs to be completely remade from the ground up. It does not work in St. Louis City, it does not work in the poorer areas of St. Louis County. We accept that rich people get excellent services because they wall themselves into suburban enclaves and avoid engaging with the rest of the region, and we accept that poor people will have poor services because they are poor. We accept that the middle class will endure a series of choices driven by anxiety and fear rather than love and optimism.

In 2000, a year after moving here, I was riding my bike on a weekend as I often do in Forest Park. A driver began a confrontation with me that ended in an assault near Skinker and Forsyth. Afterwards, angry and annoyed but not particularly hurt, I called the police. The response I got was not, "Are you ok?" but "What side of Skinker were you on?" This is our regional government in a nutshell. It first asks not what someone needs, but where they live. What you get is determined by your address.

We largely got here by accident. But with decades of perspective on this dynamic, we all know it's the central problem in the St. Louis region. It's time to do something about it. My parting shot in my role as alderman is this: We need to erase all the artificial boundaries of City and County and Municipalities. The only way this region will ever work is if we are governed as one region, where everyone pays into the same pot, everyone has a seat at the same table to determine the regional direction, and resources are distributed equitably. Tinkering around the edges is metaphorically the same as rearranging the chairs on the Titanic. People are literally dying because of the way this region's government is structured.

After 8 years in government, my wish is we stop tinkering around the edges of an obviously un-salvageable and routinely harmful regional dynamic - We should be the St. Louis of 1.3 million people we want to be.

Well I have one more wish - take a look at my résumé, I need a new job in April.



Only in St. Louis. Some Pushing for "Do Over" Vote on Ward Reduction

When voters passed Proposition R in November of 2012, I thought we had put the issue to bed. Both the Board of Aldermen and voters chose to have 14 wards represented by 14 aldermen, instead of 28. While the vote happened in 2012, implementation had to wait until the following census, effectively 2021.

I ran around the City that fall explaining to people why I fully supported a "yes" vote. With six more years of experience on the BoA since then, I am even MORE convinced now that we should have fewer wards. But suddenly, despite what a clear majority of St. Louis voters wanted, the Board of Aldermen has cold feet. 21st ward alderman John Collins-Muhammad has introduced a bill that would repeal Proposition R before it even goes into effect, leaving the BoA at 28 members if 60% of voters approve his repeal.

That bill, introduced this last Friday, is on a fast track to get through Committee with a hearing already on this Wednesday, 6:30pm at City Hall. If you voted for Proposition R in 2012, TODAY is the time to let your alderman know about it. The members of the Legislative Committee are here.

The St. Louis region is defined by political fragmentation. We have far, far more political jurisdictions than most regions. More municipalities, more aldermen, more school districts, more police departments, and way more problems getting things done. When everyone is in charge, no one is in charge. Politically, that's what defines local government within our region. A ton of elected officials, a ton of "Honorable So and So's" but no one who is actually in charge. As a result, regional policy is non-existent. Over time, the region, especially St. Louis City and County, have suffered in all kinds of ways, big and small.

A quick reminder - St. Louis has more aldermen/councilmembers per capita than almost any other City in the country. In most cases we have WAY more. We also have the same acute fragmentation the rest of the region suffers from. We don't make policy. Everything is an ad hoc decision. Want to open a daycare? Call your alderman. Want your street paved? Call your alderman. Neighbor's dog barking? Call your alderman. I joke, but only a little.

A normal city can tell you which streets are getting repaved next year. Why? Because they plan. They have a policy. Here? It's literally up to aldermen. Our public works dept. can't tell you what streets will be paved next month. Can you get your sidewalk fixed? Depends on if you alderman allocated money. Can you get a liquor license? Depends on your alderman's policy. Is your development project eligible for tax abatement? Depends on your alderman's ideas about development. Food trucks allowed? Check with your alderman. Is that bridge getting old? Hope your alderman saved some money for it. Is that street between two wards getting repaved? Hope those two aldermen get along. Can we fix the most dangerous streets in the City? Only if the alderman decides to. It's not normal, and it's not how things have to work. It CAN change.

Leadership across this region, City and County, need to take a hard look at their own houses. In 2012 we DID that. We said, "There are too many jurisdictions, too many different and conflicting policies, we need to make this better, and we need to change what we do." We needed to adapt. In an election with 74% voter turnout, 61.5% of voters agreed. The same thing needs to happen all over the region. Instead of 1,000 different personalities choosing how we do things, we need a set of policies that we implement and carry out fairly and equitably. St. Louis County is a mess too - with 89 municipalities, but once Proposition R passed, I felt like we'd taken LEADERSHIP - we could point out their mess, because we'd taken steps to clean up our own house. If we go back, we'll NEVER have the authority to do that again.

What was Proposition R about, in a nutshell:

- Larger wards would mean each alderman was far more likely to represent a more diverse area and have too keep the big picture in mind. Each ward, on balance, would look more like the whole city. And that fact would change people's perspective on how to implement policy and what was important.

- We need to professionalize how our legislative body functions. We have lots of alderman, but low capacity. We lack the professional staff that every comparable city gives their legislative branch. As a result, we don't make policy. We make ad hoc decisions, one after another, without coordination. We need to strengthen our legislative body. That means professional capacity, and we'll never increase the budget to do that under the current circumstances. The legislative branch should be an equal part of government. Currently it's not, because it operates without its own staff and information.

-  Residents across the City should expect, and receive, equal treatment and services regardless of where they live. We've created a system far too dependent on which ward you live in to determine how services are delivered.

- The job, as it's currently arranged, is losing appeal. With some exceptions, the most qualified people in the City with the best professional experience are not that interested in the job. Making the job experience more professional, adding staff, and popular or not, adjusting the salary to allow more people to do the job without working another job would go a long way towards recruiting a more compelling group of candidates. We'll never do those things without reducing the number of people in the job. Within my ward, I sometimes ask people smarter and more qualified than myself if they'd be interested in this job in the future. "No" is the answer from every one of them.

- The Legislative Branch should be an equal branch of government. We're currently primarily engaged with constituent services. The issue is this: While City Departments can and should provide constituent services, no one else can be the Legislative Branch. We need lawmakers with the time and inclination to read laws. To develop and monitor policy - that City Departments respect. We don't have that today.

- It's time we adapt. The City once had 850,000 people and 28 aldermen. Today we have 315,000 on a good day. Other cities deliver better service and outcomes with fewer elected representatives. Sometimes BECAUSE they have fewer elected representatives. Voters in St. Louis chose the same path. Don't let the Board of Aldermen turn back the clock and repeal a major win for modernizing local government.

Master Plan for Clifton Park Nearly Complete

About a year ago we began a process to create a master plan, or a guiding document, for Clifton Park. While Clifton Park is not particularly large, it is a unique park and includes a variety of features and hosts a number of events, including a pond, fountains, restrooms, playground, enhanced native landscaping, walk ways, a playground, and a basketball court.

The goal of the master plan was to create a vision for the park for the next two decades that included professional expertise and neighborhood input and consensus. "Repair, Restore, Improve" is the goal of the plan. SWT Design was hired to guide the process and develop a plan that the City could adopt. Implementation of the plan will occur over the next decade or more as funding becomes available. Each project in the plan will need to be considered and fully designed as funding for construction it available. The plan should serve as a roadmap for the community, alderman, and Parks Dept. to follow in order to achieve the vision of a well maintained, enhanced, and well used park. The final step in the future is for the City's Planning Commission to formally adopt the plan. You can download the 18 page document below.

Download a .pdf of the Clifton Park Master Plan here.

 

CP Master Plan1.JPG
CP Master Plan2.JPG

Maplewood Indecision Leads to Cancellation of Trail Project

The Deer Creek Trail extension has been effectively cancelled by Great Rivers Greenway after delays by the City of Maplewood in approving the project jeopardized a federal grant of $1.5M awarded to GRG to construct the project. The project had been slated to begin construction as early as fall of 2018 before the decision this week to return the federal funding and re-allocate another $1.6M in local GRG funding to other projects.

The 1 mile trail connection would have been built in both the City of St. Louis and the City of Maplewood, connecting the existing River Des Peres Trail to the existing Deer Creek Trail which runs through Maplewood and into Webster Groves. The trail alignment would have run along Canterbury Ave. in St. Louis and Greenwood Blvd. in Maplewood, before crossing Big Bend Blvd. and connecting to the existing trail adjacent to the Deer Creek Shopping Center. Construction of the trail, a piece of GRG's planned region wide trail network, was at no cost to either city.

 Brown line indicates preferred trail route.

Brown line indicates preferred trail route.

Both the City of St. Louis and Maplewood had previously supported the federal grant application, which matched GRG's local funding commitment to the project that would have rebuilt a substantial section of Canterbury and Greenwood. This month, GRG was already beyond a federal deadline to show progress on the project, waiting for a Maplewood decision to bless the route alignment. A disagreement among Maplewood City Council members about the trail route and specific details of the project delayed approval.

This week the City of Maplewood sent a letter to GRG, with a list of demands and stipulations they required to move forward. Certain details like the width of the trail and the width of the parking lanes on Greenwood Blvd. were points of contention. But more critical were demands made by Maplewood that would have added substantial cost and time to the project, putting it well over the $3M budget allocated for the 1 mile trail. Maplewood insisted on re-grading Greenwood Blvd and wanted the addition of an underpass to cross Big Bend Blvd., which would have been cost prohibitive. Faced with demands by Maplewood that would have added potentially over $1M to the project, and up against a deadline, they chose to return the grant money rather than face an unfeasible project they could not complete on budget, and be punished on future federal grant applications for not completing this project.

Option-A.jpg

A typical cross section on Greenwood Blvd.

Returning a federal funding award is extremely rare for any agency. GRG has completed trail projects across three counties in a variety of municipalities over 18 years and has never returned an award before. The project cancellation is a major blow to the promise of a connected trail system linking the southwest border of the City to trails into south St. Louis County and inner ring suburbs. It is also an example of the regional fragmentation of local government that makes completing projects across jurisdictions difficult, and in this case, impossible.

The outcome is $3M in funding that would have gone to this area to create a new trail amenity, as well as upgrade traffic signals and crossings for vehicular and pedestrian safety, will be reprogrammed to another part of the region. There is no schedule to reconsider the project, but the dynamic of applying for funding twice for the same project means it will likely be many years into the next decade. Officials in St. Louis report being uniformly frustrated and disappointed that a project they had invested time in planning and supporting is now cancelled by a neighboring jurisdiction.

Ogilvie Letter to Maplewood

Maplewood Letter to GRG

GRG Response to Maplewood

Proposition P - What, Why, & Why it Matters

Here's the essential question Proposition P is asking: Should we allow a permanent two tier system of police compensation, where police officers in St. Louis City are paid on average 20% less than those in St. Louis County? I say no. Residents of the City deserve a police department that is competitively paid and able to recruit and retain the best quality police officers. I'll be voting yes on Proposition P on November 7th.

What is Proposition P? Prop P is a .5% sales tax increase for the City of St. Louis which would fund increases in police salary and benefits, fire department salary and benefits, The Circuit Attorney's Office, and several smaller categories like building demolition and children's recreation programming. It will take 50% of voters to approve the tax increase in a Special Election on November 7th.

Why now? While the St. Louis County Police Department was already paying slightly higher salaries, County voters approved a similar Public Safety sales tax increase in April, primarily for substantial salary increases in the County police department and municipal police departments. When those salary increases take effect in January, what was a small disparity in pay will become a large one.

Issues like this crystallize why St. Louis and St. Louis County should be merged or joined in some way. Now is perhaps not the best time for the City to have a sales tax on the ballot that will mostly go to police salaries. But its also an urgent problem. Our backs are against the wall. If the tax fails, it will become much harder to hire and retain police in the City. So we have to put this on the ballot now, regardless of the timing. Would it have been better, much better, for the City and County to make this decision jointly, to put this on the ballot at the same time? Maybe even to put a smaller increase on the ballot? Yes to all of those things. But we are not merged. We live together, but make decisions separately that have strong effects on the other. So here we are. St. Louis County took a big step and gave large raises to police, and now we are forced to as well.

Beginning next year, the starting salary for a St. Louis County police officer will be $52,208. St. Louis City officers will be paid about $41,215 in their first year. That's an $11,000 pay disparity between City and County. St. Louis County Chief Jon Belmar has stated he intends to hire as many current St. Louis police officers as possible. The stark reality is that the job in St. Louis County is also less difficult than in St. Louis. $11,000 more in annual pay for an easier job? You can bet experienced St. Louis police will continue to migrate to jobs in St. Louis County.

The result is obvious. There will clearly be fewer, less experienced police working longer hours in the City if Proposition P doesn't pass. Today the St. Louis Police Department is already about 120 officers below budgeted strength due to attrition of officers leaving for higher pay and difficulty recruiting. The Ethical Society of Police reports that more minority officers have been leaving, resulting in a less diverse police force.

St. Louis has way too much crime - and effective policing is only one means to improving that situation. But if we create a long term, two tier system of lower paid, harder worked St. Louis City Police Officers, and higher paid County officers, we will never have the police department we deserve.

Serious crimes require more time of police officers. There are roughly 36 police officers working in St. Louis County for every homicide that occurs there, while there are only 6 in the City for every homicide. A high number of calls for service means more wait time when people call 911. Residents want quality service, fast responses, and crimes resolved. That will all become progressively harder when a move to the County will net an experienced St. Louis City police officer an $11,000+ annual raise. St. Louis WILL NOT have the best police force it can have if 90% of police officers in St. Louis County are better paid. Let's not let that happen. Residents in the City deserve a well trained, experienced, just, and responsive police department as much as anyone.

Vote Yes on Proposition P.

My Statement on the Jason Stockley Verdict

My immediate reaction after seeing the verdict and reading the judgment in the murder trial of Jason Stockley was to be appalled and disgusted, and struck by a sense of depression over how predictable this outcome was - how we've seen it before - although this time the black box of the jury was broken open and we could see the machinations of Judge Tim Wilson's intent to ignore and diminish Jason Stockley's actions, to disregard DNA evidence and Stockely's own words and contort them into a not guilty verdict.

Several days of reflection have not diminished any of those feelings. What I believe the broader public in St. Louis would like to hear is an admission from the acting Police Chief that there was overwhelming evidence presented at trial that Jason Stockley planted a gun in Anthony Lamar Smith's car after killing him, in an attempt to justify the killing. Only Jason Stockley's DNA was on the gun - including, as presented at trial - in places where you could only deposit DNA by disassembling the gun. On the other hand, the victim's DNA wasn't there, even after being shot and bleeding all over the inside of the car where the gun was supposed to have been. While the judge dismissed this as inconclusive and irrelevant, it bears stating what everyone knows: Jason Stockley almost certainly planted that gun. Its the only explanation that is consistent with the evidence, which doesn't require flights of fancy to believe. The simplest explanation here, consistent with all the evidence, is the one we should believe.

People expect police officers to be given the benefit of the doubt in many situations, and they are. But everything needs to have a limit. What residents should know is that prosecutors are loathe to prosecute police officers for crimes. And two St. Louis prosecutors, Jennifer Joyce and Kim Gardner, pursued charges of first degree murder against Jason Stockley, because it was a case they could not ignore. Prosecutors do not charge police officers unless they are compelled by evidence to do so. Prosecuting a police officer is difficult, time consuming, politically unpopular, and unlikely to result in a conviction. The reality is prosecutors do not pursue charges without compelling evidence of guilt. These are not fishing expeditions. When a judge ignores evidence at a trial, and injects thinly coded racist language into the verdict, what else can we conclude but that the latent racism of our country prevented a just and fair verdict?

Despite the verdict, we still cannot ignore what in all probability happened. A police officer, who was already in violation of a number of important police procedures, including carrying and brandishing his own assault rifle during this interaction, planted a gun on a suspect after saying he would kill him, killed him 45 seconds later, and a judge ignored that in his verdict. The evidence was such that even other, current St. Louis police officers were calling for the conviction of Stockley after evidence presented at trial.

None of this is to defend the actions of Smith that day. But we know that he would have faced serious consequences within the judicial system after being arrested. The system would have vigorously brought charges against him for his dangerous actions.

The reality of the criminal justice system in general is that most people do not expect perfection. Police are going to get cut some breaks and society accepts that. But the same reality is that the justice system has to be able to convict police in egregious situations like this. People do not need to believe that justice will be automatic, but we do need to believe that it is a possibility - that in cases with clear evidence of criminal acts, witnesses, DNA evidence, video, that in these circumstances police are not above the law.

The irony of this verdict is it only makes policing harder. Jason Stockley is long gone from St. Louis and is no longer a police officer. But police here today face more anger and skepticism because of his actions. They face less support, less trust, less regard, and that makes all residents less safe. A few writers at the Post Dispatch may be oblivious to what protestors are talking about, but its painfully obvious: residents want a system where egregious criminal activity by a police officer can successfully prosecuted. Its not an abstract concept.

We can't prosecute Jason Stockley again. What can we do? We're about to hire a new police chief, this is our first chance to hire a person who has substantial experience outside the St. Louis Police Dept. We need to hire a person who can at least acknowledge the reality of cases like the Stockley case. We need someone concerned with effective and fair policing over public relations, with the ability to strengthen the police department by acknowledging when the wrong things happen, and with the desire to prevent what happened in the Stockley case from happening again. As is so often said, you can't fix the problem until you acknowledge it. I hear the overwhelming chorus of residents acknowledging it. Will the next police chief? The next judge? Doing better is the only option.

Perspective on the Medium Security Institution

Now that temporary air conditioning has been installed at MSI, I want to reflect on the future of the facility, the events of the last week, and look at the whole picture of who is responsible for people being detained on bond at either of the City's jails.

I am not about to defend the larger criminal justice or mental health systems across Missouri or the country. In fact, the acute inadequacies of those systems directly contribute to the below par conditions at MSI. However, I also want to point out inaccuracies that have been making the rounds in the last week about what leads people to be detained at MSI, because there should be some facts we can agree on before moving towards improving the situation at MSI.

Since I've been on the Board of Aldermen, I have been an advocate for retro-fitting the un-airconditioned parts of the building, as well as funding a variety of accumulated deferred maintenance at the building that has built up over time.  The best chance for finding the money for all of these improvements in recent history was the 2015 bond proposal. I was on the Capital Committee at the time, which spent 2 years reviewing a wide and deep list of City infrastructure needs. St. Louis government is not in good financial shape. Large expenses are hard to fund. and the reality is that A/C has never made the cut since the building was opened in 1966. I wanted A/C for the whole building as part of a bond issue in 2015. Unfortunately voters did not approve the bond, including $30.5 million for corrections, which would have made money available today to make a wide variety of improvements to the building, including A/C and plumbing.

What is true is that once people are at MSI, its the City's (and by City I mean the part of the City that works under the mayor) responsibility to provide an adequate level of care for people. I do not believe we generally reach that level at MSI for men, despite the efforts of an under-staffed correctional department. But here is what's also true: The City has almost no control over how many people are at MSI, or how long they stay there. The length of someone's stay is determined primarily by the Circuit Attorney and judge, but also by the individual charged with the crime themselves, and often the state public defender's office. Every delay or continuance in a case adds length to a pre-trial stay and expense to the city.

Almost no one is in MSI because of a city charge (an ordinance violation). People there have been charged with a state level crime (felonies and misdemeanors) by Kim Gardner's office, and prior to her by Jennifer Joyce's office. While the police department obviously gathers evidence in most criminal cases, the Circuit Attorney ultimately has the discretion to charge or not charge any case. "City Hall" also have no control over what bail is set. The Circuit Attorney's Office requests bail and judges assign bail.

An often repeated statement has been that 98% of people in the city's two jails are pre-trial. This isn't an inaccurate statement. The majority are pretrial. A small number are serving a sentence, and others are there for probation and parole violations. Probation and parole violations are not really pre-trial actions. They are directly related to an existing conviction or guilty plea, and resulting sentence.

About 75 to 80% of people at the two jails are actually pre-trial. Of those who are pre-trial, 97% are charged by the Circuit Attorney's with felonies. Some of these people, as advocates claim, are at MSI because of non-violent offenses like drug possession, larceny, theft, fraud, etc. Others are charged with more serious violent felonies like manslaughter, aggravated assault and gun charges - although people charged with violent crimes like murder and rape are more likely to be confined at the Justice Center downtown.

If you are awaiting trial at either location, you are likely to either be charged with a serious or violent crime, or are poor and unable to afford bail for lesser charges. What's important about this is to recognize what is landing people in jail pre-trial. If you believe pre-trial detention compounds all the likely problems in a non-violent suspects life, and most people do believe that at this point, then how do we avoid pre-trial detention for appropriate cases?

A few things would go a long way to reducing the problem. The number one thing by far is that the public defender's office in Missouri have enough funding to represent people who need a public defender. Missouri, under both democratic and republican governors, and democratic and republican state legislatures, has woefully under funded the office. Its inadequate, it leads to longer waits pre-trial, and at its worst, it violates defendant's constitutional right to adequate representation. The resultant delays caused by an under supply of public defenders increases the population at MSI. The City is not the entity that funds public defenders. The state MUST do better.

The next thing is that the St. Louis judicial system should pilot eliminating cash bail in some cases. But that is also largely not work that happens at "City Hall". City Hall doesn't request bail or determine bail. That work needs to happen between the Circuit Attorney and Judiciary. For some kinds of cases and charges, a system other than cash-bail could be developed.  

Third, efforts to establish charitable funds to pay bail for low-income people facing non-violent charges should continue. The amount required in the most sympathetic cases is often very small. A full time charitable effort could likely reduce the population at MSI by 20% for a modest amount of money. But its important to know that once a person has been charged with a crime and does not pay bail, "the City" generally can't legally release them until they pay bail or the case is resolved. This is a generous region. There is ample space for the charitable community to help people facing non-violent charges, and by doing so improve the living conditions of others facing more serious charges.

Fourth, regardless of what courts, judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys do - the City needs to better fund maintenance at MSI. The City needs to end the "out of sight, out of mind" mentality that has characterized other administration's approach to maintenance.

Contrary to many claims in the last two weeks, the City largely does not want people at MSI if there is an alternative. We have an obligation to hold people facing state charges, but the state does not compensate us the amount it costs to house people awaiting trial. The more people at MSI - the more it costs the City, both from state under payments and in staff required to run the facility. That means there is an alignment in desires between the activist and reform community and "City Hall" to reduce the population a MSI. A smaller population there would make it much easier to improve the housing conditions for the people that are there.

On the other hand, what has also been sadly missing in the recent conversation is any attention to victims. While there are certainly people awaiting trial at MSI that do not pose any particular danger if they were released, there are others that pose a clear danger. Victims of crimes like sexual violence and domestic assault often take great risks to themselves in order to provide evidence of a crimes that allow a prosecution. Victims can live in great fear and real danger pre-trial, especially if an alleged perpetrator is not detained. While as of this writing we don't have an up to date snap shot of all the charges people face at MSI, we should recognize many of those are serious charges, with real victims who live in our community, and whose lives have been damaged by the crimes committed. The criminal justice system can be hard on victims, we can't ignore that while trying to improve the system for those awaiting trial.

Is MSI a good facility? No. Is it a facility that largely continues to exist because the state does a poor job with mental health, Medicaid, public defenders, and substance abuse? Yes. The City, who as a government is not in good financial shape, is picking up the slack for an indifferent state.

Is the City equipped to fix the myriad problems with the criminal justice system in Missouri? No. Are we already trying to reduce the population at MSI? Yes. There is not one solution to this. Improvement will require the cooperation of judges, Circuit Attorney, City Hall, and ideally an end to the indifference the state generally shows us. We have new office holders who are likely more interested than their predecessors in engaging with the issue. The focus should be on each party working on things within their control to improve the situation. The results people want to see - the impact people want to make - will come much faster if people set aside narrow political agendas and personal credit to focus on solutions.

The Lesson of the MLS Vote

There will be many post-mortems after Proposition 2, which would have committed the City of St. Louis to building a soccer stadium and spending over $100M during the course of 30 years. Here's mine. This post isn't about what voters should or shouldn't have done. Its just about what they did, and more importantly, why.

The failure of Prop 2 to pass does not have much to do with soccer. My sense was that voters generally though it might be "nice" to have an MLS team, but it wasn't essential either way. But the ongoing hangover from the Rams saga (not, in fact, the Rams leaving. But the sad, cynical, and financially negligent way certain members of local government begged and pleaded with the NFL to make them stay) is what meant this soccer vote would have a stiff headwind that never abated.

When you ask voters to raise taxes for "wants" like a soccer stadium (and lets face it, a "want" that is a fairly narrow special interest) you rely on voters trusting their local government to be sure the proposal is responsible. It takes political capital to pass these things, and after the NFL stadium fiasco, that capital was gone.

Recall that St. Louis taxpayers, just two years ago, were being asked to build the NFL and a billionaire owner, a new football palace when the last one we built wasn't even paid off yet. Then recall that proponents of this plan conspired with the mayor's office to litigate away the voters ability to have the final say on the plan via a referendum. Then recall that just like this MLS stadium, St. Louis County taxpayers wouldn't have to participate financially. It was just on us, a city still struggling with 60 years of population decline, to pay for a plan that was, as a friend put it, "financial pornography." Voters got their say on the Mayor's office approach to the NFL yesterday, they just got it with the MLS vote.

When a past government agreed to one of the worst professional sports leases in history after building the Dome, they paid little attention to the people who would be left cleaning up the mess 25 years later. Well here we are, we are those people. The terrible deals struck in the past inform the decisions people make today.

If certain influential St. Louisans wanted an MLS team, the strategy in 2015 should have been this: We're cutting our losses with the NFL. We're not spending another dime there, and we're applying our efforts to MLS. That would have taken some political courage, but it also would have avoided the very, very sour taste the NFL experience left with voters. I know the people behind the MLS effort simply do not understand how angry many residents are with the money wasted on the NFL and backroom scheme to avoid a referendum. The political capital to pass an MLS vote was squandered on the NFL.

It has to be noted that Prop 2 faired the worst of all the questions on the ballot. Voters supported a higher sales tax for better transit and other local services. They supported (although not at the 2/3rds level required to pass) a higher property tax to help save vacant buildings. We supported a property tax increase last year for school funding. And voters in St. Louis County supported by a huge margin more money for police. The obvious conclusion is that people support funding the basic needs in their community. They want good services. They want a safer place to live. They want investment in basic infrastructure, and they are willing to pay for it. But efforts to fund two stadiums in two years seem woefully out of touch to voters living in some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the country. You can hear people saying, "This again? Give me a break."

But its also abundantly clear that residents in the City of St. Louis are aware that regional amenities require regional funding efforts. If we can't do it regionally, there will be many things in the future we just can't do. End of story. If residents of St. Louis County wanted an MLS team, they should have worked politically to participate in funding it. They didn't, and that's on them. Our region can provide better, more equitable services and amenities to all its residents. But we have to do it together. There literally is no other way. And if we don't, there will be other "failures" or "missed opportunities" in the future. The only way forward for our region is to act like one.

The Antonio French Era at City Hall

When the new legislative session starts for aldermen on April 18th, Antonio French won't be representing the 21st ward. For me, the Board of Aldermen will seem like a very different place. In the week since the primary for mayor, French's campaign has been disparaged by both the "progressive" wing of local politics and by some parts of local black media, for harming Tishaura Jones' shot at winning the election. He doesn't need me (or probably even want me) to defend him, but I will anyway.

For the more outspoken cadre of aldermen currently in office (including me) French defined what being an alderman was, and provided a reason to want this job. French  set the standard for turning a position that can be as utterly irrelevant as alderman into a meaningful and sometimes compelling platform for social, cultural, and political commentary and policy. He's been the most consistently interesting voice in local politics on a number of issues for the past decade.  When I was elected in 2011, he was one of the few people that didn't seem to think I was irrelevant. The only way to become a good alderman is to learn on the job, but the tips he gave me were accurate.

People who are frustrated with him today for harming another black candidate's shot at becoming mayor should remember that French was completely instrumental in helping Lewis Reed become the first black President of the Board of Aldermen in 2007. I don't remember if I told him, or just thought this during the 2013 mayoral election, but he should have been the candidate taking on Slay, not Reed. French's arguments were clear and incisive, and his ability to communicate to a wide audience was unsurpassed in local politics. But instead of grabbing for the brass ring in 2013, he was a loyal lieutenant for Reed. For some reason people think Slay won easily, but that is anything but the case. Slay pulled out all the stops to win that election 54 - 44. Perhaps at the time Reed had more city-wide name recognition, but I still contend French could have pushed Slay harder, and delivered a more coherent argument on why voters should change course. French compared Reed to Newark mayor Cory Booker, but the obvious reality was that French himself was much more like the energetic and media savvy Booker.

Most baffling in the recent criticism of French is the idea that he isn't, "for the people". French represented one of the lowest income areas of St. Louis, and he used every tool available at City Hall (which usually isn't much) to deliver better services for his community. He consistently pissed off almost everyone in the process. But on a shoestring budget of grants and charity, he cobbled together after school programs for the neediest kids, and help for the poorest seniors. He managed Halloween safe zones so children could Trick or Treat. He paid out of his own campaign funds to run a summer concert series in O'Fallon Park. He got the poorest kids almost free access to the O'Fallon Rec Center. He relentlessly tried to make his community visible, specific, and important to a region that was indifferent or oblivious to it.

Being alderman can be fairly taxing, and immensely frustrating, in any part of St. Louis. It's a much more difficult job in areas with the highest crime and poverty. Local politics is sometimes lumped in with national politics, but it's nothing like it. Local politics is your neighbor resenting you for the building code citation they got. It's someone you know asking you how they can avoid their home getting foreclosed on. It's hearing there was a shooting and worrying you know the victim. It's very personal. I saw French pour himself into it, try everything, and I saw the frustration grow with each passing year. French did veer into a kind of reflexive, automatic distrust of Slay. He assigned malice to actions that I might have called indifferent or tone-deaf. And he alienated people who didn't see things that way. But I can see why he felt that way.

One public example was in 2014. As the murder rate climbed, Police Chief Dotson utilized a "rap" video produced by two white Washington University students to explain that, actually, the highest murder rate in the country was just a statistical problem, rather than a human tragedy. If  the same violence was in my neighborhood, I would have lost all remaining patience too. I'm still embarrassed that a "cute" video by college kids was used to minimize the death of so many black residents. This dynamic played out over and over again in small ways and large.

French has been hammered for things (mostly cherry-picked) like not caring about people's wages, not opposing developer subsidies hard enough, and not "really" caring about community issues post-Ferguson. But the last 8 years show otherwise. French was all over Paul McKee in 2009, accurately predicting the coming blunders. He has been the most relentless advocate for minority hiring on public or subsidized projects. And he was talking about "Ferguson" issues well before 2014: Effective community policing, local courts, the portrayal of black people and communities by local media, institutional racism, the enormous toll poverty exacts from children, and more. But he's usually had a pragmatic streak about what local government could actually do, something that has gone very much out of vogue lately. He was willing to make politically bad decisions from time to time if he believed it was better for his constituents.

French got very unlucky when Clinton did not win the presidency. His early association with her campaign would have provided him with more institutional support and substantially more money to campaign for his mayoral bid. He would have looked much more like a front-runner from the early going, and could have had some national figures singing his praises. Instead, he mostly had to go it alone. But he was committed - he was fed up with his current position and ready for a larger platform.

I have become a grumpier person, and he's become a more difficult person in the last six years, so unfortunately I can't call him a friend. But I'm glad to say I was his colleague. In an only slightly different world French would be mayor today.  Perhaps his career could have taken the trajectory of Dick Gephardt's, another former alderman. He is an entrepreneurial person who can be very successful outside of politics, but I hope there's space for him in public service again. In any case, for me, the defining personality of my time at City Hall is gone for now. It would be travesty if the narrative of the last week is what he's remembered for.